Abducted by the terrorist group ISIS, dead bodies of 38 Indians arrived in Amritsar from Mosul, Iraq on April 1. As all the deceased were labourers who had migrated from the country for work,to some extent the tragedy has brought back the debate on the security of migrant workers in destination countries to the forefront other than attracting much condemnation from the Parliament.The role of the International agencies and the national governments to regulate migration is being discussed both by the countries of origin and of destination migration.
But it is not just migration that needs deliberations but also the working conditions in the destination countries that requires intervention because it is for labur that more than 70 percent of migration occurs.
The Global Compact for Migration (GCM)
Heads of state are going to gather in December in Morocco to discuss the ‘safe, orderly and regular migration’ as they ratify the Global Compact for Migration (GCM). Considered to be a non-legally binding cooperative framework among nations, it will have widespread ramifications once agreed upon and adopted. Voices have already started dissenting that it is just a management framework which will not work in the interest of the workers rather will inhibit their movement. The first draft of the GCM is already out and is being discussed by various stakeholders including International Labour Organisation (ILO), various trade unions and civil society groups working on migration and labour issues.
The draft of the GCM lays 10 cross cutting guiding principles. These include: being People-Centred, International cooperation, National sovereignty, Rule of law and due process, Sustainable Development Goals, Human rights, Gender-Sensitivity, Sensitivity towards Children , whole-of government-approach and whole-of society approach. These principles may sound noble but actually are to control and monitor migration of workers. The GCM also has 22 objectives that range from collecting data of both ‘regular and irregular migrant workers’ to establishing mechanism for the portability of social security entitlements to the workers. Some of the important objectives of such a Compact are,‘to minimise the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin, strengthen certainty and predictability in migration procedures etc’.
The issue of regulating migration is being discussed at a time when xenophobia is rising at dangerous levels and human displacement is taking place at an unprecedented scale. Hence, there is an urgent need for a global commitment for fair migration and coherent rights based polices as demanded by the global unions of the workers and their families.
The group in India discussing these challenges include the central workers unions, the civil society organisations and even a few individuals who are doing exemplary work in the domain of migration related issues of the working people. This group has warned that there is risk that the GCM could shirk humanitarian obligations, failing to provide protections from abusive temporary or circular work visa programmes. It further stresses the need that the Compact should adhere to human and labour rights standards and should not further criminalize migrants or empower the private sector to dictate terms of migration governance. Hence an important demand that emanates from this group is that the ILO should play a greater role and not the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in the GCM.
The workers unions in Indian have laid down guidelines for a transparent compact process that gives working families freedom to stand together and receive a fair return on the hard work done. They demand
• Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in destination countries.
• Authentic social dialogue. The compact should explicitly integrate ILOs tripartite structure of consultations (between the government, workers’ and employers representative) as a central governance mechanism for global labour migration policy
• Adherence to International standards.
• Commitment to decent work and sustainable development which should protect and empower workers in countries of origin, transit and destinations.
• Non- discrimination mandates which should include equal treatment, gender equality, access to justice and access to social protections.
India’s failure to protect migrants
The Indian government which is a major player in international migration of workers has a pathetic record in formalising migration in the country. The trade unions are not even being taken into consideration while discussing the issues of migrant workers from neighbouring countries. Interestingly, India happens to the leading country with sending 16 million people abroad (2017) and the third to have destination migration. It means that the largest number of workers in the world migrate from India to other countries including Gulf and other Middle East countries for want of jobs. Simultaneously, India also happens to be the country with the third largest population of workers from Nepal and Bangladesh. Hence India has on of t the largest stake in the GCM.
There have also been several incidents where Indian origin workers have almost been enslaved; promised jobs as technical workers but made to work as helpers and then not paid salaries for months together. Several cases of children born with Indian mothers in destination countries of not getting entitlement at all have also been reported. These kids have virtually become ‘stateless’.
India itself as a destination country of migrant workers too has not been a kind host. The cases of Rohingya workers, who escaped persecution in Myanmar and are living as refugees, being haunted for being Muslims are plenty and their growing projection as terrorists is disturbing . Similarly workers from Bangladesh are forced to work with very less wages and no entitlements. The migrant workers from Nepal who works in large numbers as security guards and as agricultural labourers have no rights to social security benefits. Some of their families are living for decades together in the country but cannot harp on to the minimum entitlements for a living under any state sponsored scheme.
In the absence of either bi-lateral or multilateral treaty the nation states hardly work in the workers interests.
Nepal, however,is an interesting state where with the realignment of political forces, positive advancement has started taking place. The Nepalese government has brought the trade union movement and its leadership to the forefront to represent the interests and rights of the migrant workers in destination countries. One of the trade union leaders would be the country representative of the delegation participating in the deliberations at the GCM. Not to forget, the trade union representative is from the Congress partyeven though the Left is in the ruling coalition. This reflects a built up of a wider democratic environment for the trade union movement and the migrant workers rights platform.
In earlier times migration was induced for production processes and history is witness how colonial powers enslaved generations of some races and lower classes of various countries under their vast empires. In theworld of neo-liberalism today, mobility of the capital is ensured without restriction from the global powers but, the movement of the labour is being restricted. It is for the labour movement to use the GCM as an opportunity to ensure that the legitimate rights of the migrant workers are incorporated. Else it will just remain an exercise to manage the movement or mobility of the migrants and the workers’ rights will be completely shelved.
Demands sent to the Parliament to ensure Workers’ Rights
A charter of demands preparedby a group of the trade unions and civil rights activists was sent to the Parliamentary standing committee on External affairs where unions have urged the Parliamentarians must influence the Government of India to ensure that the ensuing discussion in December 2018 the following issues may be taken into consideration. The demands are as follow:
• Inclusion of the international labour standards in the GCM, and particularly those on the fundamental principles and rights at work.
• Ensuring that future negotiations do not dilute the commitment to non-discrimination of services, benefits and rights irrespective of nationality and the status of migrant workers.
• Articulating the realities of labour migration (as opposed to mobility) and the rights of migrants, more explicitly in the GCM.
• Lead role of and mandate of the ILO explicitly mentioned in the implementation, review and follow-up sections of the GCM.
• Government of India should consult with trade unions, migrant rights organizations and other relevant stakeholders prior to ongoing GCM negotiations.
• Considering a leading role in coalitions of like-minded countries (e.g. ‘Friends of Decent Work’ which India was part of during the SDG discussions) to formulate common positions / statements from country of origin perspectives.
It is still to be seen whether the Government of India with the present ruling party will ponder over these issues or not. It is tough to believe that the Indian government, which is completely averse to giving entitlements to the migrant workers, will consider the above issues in right earnest. However the present opportunity is to be utilized to mobilize opinions for the migrant workers, their rights, entitlements both for their origin and destination countries.